In Memoriam: Wilbur Parker ’50, MBA ’50

Cornell’s first African-American MBA broke barriers throughout his career

Wilbur Parker '50, MBA '50

The Johnson community was saddened to learn of the passing of Wilbur Parker ’50, MBA ’50, Cornell’s first African-American MBA and inaugural recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from Johnson’s Black Graduate Business Association — subsequently named in his honor as the Wilbur Parker Distinguished Alumni Award. Parker passed away on Wednesday March 25, 2015.

Parker was an exemplary and ground-breaking civic leader whose career was marked by many “firsts” that reveal his dedication to breaking down barriers and combating exclusion. One of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, he was the first African- American CPA in the state of New Jersey, the first African-American budget director for the city of Newark, and the first African-American secretary of Newark’s Board of Education. He marched with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on the Washington, D.C., central mall in 1963, and in 1969 he traveled to Fayette, Mississippi, to help organize and train the administrative staff for Charles Evers, the city’s first black mayor.

When Parker returned to campus in September 2003 to accept the BGBA award, he recalled living in Sage Hall dormitory during his undergraduate years at Cornell, and said he was “so proud to see the growth and development of Cornell’s Johnson School — from its humble beginnings in available odd corners of White and McGraw Halls, to its present home in a magnificently rebuilt and expanded Sage Hall — and now to see it recognized as one of the leading graduate business schools in the country.”

“I had the honor of meeting Mr. Parker on one of his many visits to campus,” said Dean Soumitra Dutta. “A friend of Johnson and a shining example of our school, he will be missed.”

“Mr. Parker cared deeply about young people,” said Angela Noble-Grange, senior lecturer of management communication and founding director of the Office for Women and Minorities in Business, now the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. “At a Johnson Means Business event in the early years, he shared with me how touched he was when he looked out at a room filled with prospective students who represented so much diversity. He told me, ‘When I was in school, I was it. And now to see so many.'”

“Smart, elegant, eloquent, and resilient, Wilbur Parker did more than just talk about success; he was the living example of how to use one’s own successes to aid the cause of others succeeding,” said Risa Mish, senior lecturer of management and faculty director of the Johnson Leadership Fellows program. “Every year that I saw Mr. Parker, I would tell him that he was ‘an angel among us.’ I will now think of him as the Angel Above Us.”